Thursday, January 23, 2020

MLBUA Defends Spring Human Ump Autonomy

Faced with Commissioner Rob Manfred's grandiose electronic strike zone claims in Davos, the MLB Umpires Association (MLBUA) issued a statement to ESPN, reiterating that the technology in Spring Training will remain behind the scenes and that human umpires will continue to call games as they have always done.

Yesterday's news report on this website indicated that home plate umpires would remain in command and the technology would debut in a "test only" mode.
Related PostManfred Decrees Computers More Accurate Than Human Umpires; MLB to Test Electronic Zone at Spring Training (1/22/20).

MLBUA's statement confirms this: "Reports that MLB will use 'robo-umps' to call balls and strikes in spring training games this year are completely inaccurate. ... Our understanding is that a camera-based tracking system will be running in the background during some spring training games for technology development and training purposes. But any game in which a Major League Baseball umpire is working will have a human calling balls and strikes...

We bargained hard for these protections, and the process we negotiated has not even started. Use of ... technology in spring training games this year would be premature and would violate our new agreement. We have received absolutely no word from the Office of the Commissioner that MLB intends to do that."

Yesterday's article and video addresses several of Manfred's claims that remain unsupported by years of public data and other evidence, such as the zone's 2D/3D problem, accuracy rating compared to human performance, and so-called fan experience.

Video as follows:

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Manfred Decrees Computers More Accurate Than Human Umpires; MLB to Test Electronic Zone at Spring Training

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred says computers are "more accurate" than human umpires, stating the automated ball/strike system (ABS) or similar technology will be used during Spring Training and MiLB's Florida State League season, though an anonymous source told ESPN that the home plate umpire would remain in command.

With the Atlantic League's test failing a significant percentage of the time through its failure to track pitches entirely, amongst others, it would make sense that MLB would walk back Manfred's statement as a "test only" mode, given that the technology appears not to be reliable nor accurate enough to be used on a consistent basis.

Despite Manfred's own previous position of "that technology has a larger margin of error than we see with human umpires," the MLB Commissioner completed an about-face on his prior computerized strike zone stance, telling FOX Business' Maria Bartiromo during an interview at the 2020 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, "we think it's more accurate than a human being standing there."
Related PostManfred Vows Robo-Umps in 2020 MiLB as Players Complain (11/5/19).

Nonetheless, as recently as the 2019, minor league players complained about the ABS used during the Arizona Fall League, while multiple personnel were ejected for arguing about pitches called by the electronic system during 2019 AFL and Atlantic League games. Frank Viola, for instance, was angry that umpires failed to overrule the computer system while Jacob Heyward was frustrated that ABS called several close pitches strikes.
Related PostComputer Strike Call Prompts Navas' AFL Ejection (10/16/19).
Related PostAtlantic League ABS Robo-Ump Ejection Encore (9/28/19).
Related PostHistory - Baseball's First Ejection Due to TrackMan (7/12/19).

We at CloseCallSports routinely documented ABS' shortcomings; whether during the Atlantic League regular season, AFL season, or even the broadcast systems used during the 2019 MLB postseason.
Related PostFoxTrax (PitchCast) Strike Zone Box Fails in ALCS (10/18/19).
Related PostABS Playoff Highlights - Delayed Calls & System Errors (10/1/19).
Related PostAutomated Ball/Strike System Postseason Highlights (9/30/19).
Related PostALPB TrackMan Follies - A Neck-High Strike (7/15/19).

The e-zone continues to suffer errors.
As for Manfred's claim of a three-dimensional strike zone, that must be an allusion to new, untested technology–perhaps related to TrackMan's depreciation and Hawk-eye's impending introduction—for as recently as Fall 2019, ABS was decidedly two-dimensional in nature.

Throughout the 2019 season, we documented the habitual vertical strike zone problem, and even introduced UEFL ZoneCheck in an attempt to correct for the technology's real-time shortcomings. So if MLB was able to shore up all of the system's extensive shortcomings over the 2019-20 offseason, that deserves a kudos.
Related PostPostgame Processing Changes Gibson's Strike EJ QOC (9/21/19).
Related PostZoneCheck - Twins' Ump De Jesus' Ball 4 Call (7/24/19).

Meanwhile, MLB Chief Baseball Officer Joe Torre most recently stated his opposition to a robotic strike zone in the major leagues.
Related PostTorre Doesn't Want Robot Umpires in MLB (7/26/19).

Video as follows:

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Postgame Encroachment - The Locker Room Invader

When a losing coach burst into the officials' room to berate the crew following a game in California, one of the referees hit "record" on his smart phone, capturing the incident on camera. We recap the action with "Postgame Abuse: What to do," a video pregame discussion for an unsportsmanlike event that hopefully will never befall you.

Despite umpire and referee locker rooms serving as safe havens for officials after a charged contest, there nonetheless exists the rare occasion upon which a frustrated person will invade the officials' space with the express intention of conveying some semblance of unsportsmanlike conduct.

Disclaimer: If the locker room invader is a coach or other team personnel fresh off the floor or field, these following guidelines will apply. If the intruder, however, is an unruly fan or other non-sports person, proceed straight to Step 4.

Technicals and ejections only go so far.
Step 1: Record video. The proliferation of smart phones and video technology has made documentation so much simpler. After all, video is extensively used in the stands, so take a page from this playbook and have accessible your video recording device, just in case.

Step 2: Tell the intruder, in no uncertain terms, to leave. It probably won't help much in the moment, but upon video review after the fact, your instruction will go a far way in establishing the malcontent's failure to comply.

Step 3: Don't argue. Because jurisdiction has ended, don't try and serve a technical foul or ejection; either would be non-binding. Although the defensive mechanism inherent within umpire scapegoating remains a psychologically logical outcome, its real-world manifestation of projection and blaming remains rather irrational. In other words, the intruder—having already broken rules and crossed lines—isn't up for measured discourse, and argument or discipline can only serve to inflame a negative situation.
Related PostGil's Call: The Blame Game (Umpire Scapegoating) (8/8/14).

On-field, it's a bump. Off-field, it's a crime.
Step 4: Call for help (security). If a crime is committed, call the police. For the most part, it is illegal for a person to touch another person without the victim's consent. During a game, implied consent exists when participants voluntarily elect to enter the playing surface, but afterward, there is little doubt that anyone other than an official (or official's invited guests) in an officials' room is unwanted and, thus, any potential touching would be unwanted. If unwanted touching follows Step 2, that only serves to further drive home the point.

Step 4a: File your report. If the police were involved, you'll have a police report. If not, you'll still have a report with the person who assigned the game, the league, conference, governing body, etc. The report should be factual as to what occurred and video evidence can prove quite beneficial as a supplement.

Not just acts, but VIDEO hurt Dusty Rhodes.
Step 5: Share the video if necessary. The reason Step 3 exists is because an official, despite having concluded the game and jurisdiction surrounding the game, is held to a high "always on duty" standard, and because a reasonable person would expect that the governing body will judiciously resolve the situation (e.g., by punishing the offender). By adhering to "silence cannot be misquoted," an official also can avoid charges or accusations that he or she aggravated the situation by talking or shouting.

However, sometimes supervisory staff can fail to respond adequately to a situation. Furthermore, as media coverage has demonstrated, sportsmanship deficiency remains a societal problem. In order to effect change, it sometimes is necessary to publicize instances of poor sportsmanship so as to decree its unacceptability.
Related LabelCCS - Umpire Abuse.

Video as follows:

Monday, January 20, 2020

ABL - Howard Ejects Lee on Bench-Clearing HBP

Benches cleared during Melbourne's 12-2 blowout victory over Geelong-Korea when HP Umpire Greg Howard ejected Chan-Seok Lee for hitting Aces batter Allan de San Miguel in the head with a pitch following a home run in the top of the 3rd inning of the Aces-GK game.

The inning began with a home run by Delmon Young, single by Nate Samson, home run by Colin Willis, groundout by Luke Hughes, and home run by Jarryd Dale. When the first pitch to ensuing batter Sam Miguel produced a HBP to the head, HP Umpire Howard ejected pitcher Chan-Seok Lee as benches cleared and umpires Howard, Brett Robson (1B) and Neil Medlin (3B) separated the teams; the only real fight appeared to occur between fans, in the stands along the Aces' third-base dugout; a uniformed member of the Aces appeared to leave the dugout to participate in the confrontation on the concourse. At the time of the ejection, Melbourne was leading 9-1. Melbourne ultimately won the contest, 12-2.

Wrap: Melbourne Aces vs. Geelong-Korea, 1/11/20 | Video as follows:

Friday, January 17, 2020

Canada's Lisa Turbitt Named 1st Female WBC Umpire

When Lisa Turbitt (Canada) takes the field at the 2020 World Baseball Classic Qualifier in Arizona this March, she'll become the first woman to officiate a WBC game, according to Baseball Ontario, which reported MLB's selection for the upcoming tournament.

Turbitt was appointed to the World Baseball Softball Conferation (WBSC), Baseball Umpiring Commission in 2016, having served on the Baseball Ontario Umpires Committee since 1998.

Along the way, she received the 2004 Dick Willis Senior Umpire of the Year Award, which is given to Baseball Canada's top umpire for that year, and has officiated several Women's Baseball World Cup events, including serving as plate umpire during the 2014 IBAF World Cup's gold medal game.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Teachable - Runner's Interference Swipe

In this edition of Tmac's Teachable Moments, we visit the Northwoods League where HP Umpire Leo Cintron sticks with a play at the plate, calling a runner out even though the catcher appeared to drop the ball...or did he?

The Duluth Huskies bat in the bottom of the 5th inning with none out and runners at second and third. Batter Danny Zimmerman hits a line drive into left field, recovered by Eau Claire Express outfielder Zach Gilles and thrown to catcher Vincent Martinez as Huskies baserunner R2 Max Guzman arrives at home plate. Martinez receives the throw and puts a tag on Guzman as the ball pops free and Cintron signals an out.

With a third base coach in the dirt circle surrounding home plate as the play occurs at home plate, we have Official Baseball Rule 6.01(f) (Coach and Umpire Interference) in the back of our mind—just in case the out-of-position coach does anything to interfere with play, such as drawing a throw or tag—but in this situation, replays indicate that runner Guzman appeared to commit a little interference of his own, swiping at the catcher's mitt and knocking the ball loose.

Cintron properly invokes OBR 6.01(a) (Batter or Runner Interference), akin to Yankees batter-runner Alex Rodriguez swatting at Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo's glove in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS.

Remember, swipe tags are fine, but two swipes don't make a right, and as always, per OBR's General Instructions to Umpires, "keep your eye everlastingly on the ball while it is in play." In this situation, knowing precisely why the ball fell to the ground was key to getting this play correct.

This Teachable sponsored by UMPCourse.com, which can place YOU in the Northwoods League.
Video as follows:

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Podcast - Scott Kennedy's Catcher Management

Former Minor League Baseball and current NCAA umpire Scott Kennedy joins The Plate Meeting Podcast to discuss his career and approach to game management through rapport with catchers and how to use that relationship with the only other person on the field to wear a mask to communicate with the dugout.

We discuss the importance of treating everyone with respect—not just team players and coaches, but clubhouse staff, bat/ball attendants, etc.—and the attitude conducive to a better experience on the field, while maintaining discipline through tools such as the informal (all levels) and official warning system (NFHS/NCAA).

Click the below play (▶) button to listen to "Episode 23 - Scott Kennedy's Catcher Management" or visit the show online at https://anchor.fm/the-plate-meeting. You can also access The Plate Meeting on Apple Podcasts/iTunes, Google, Castbox, Spotify, TuneIn, and other podcast services.

Alternate Link: Episode 23 - Scott Kennedy's Catcher Management

Additional Links, Videos, and Other Media:
The Plate Meeting is brought to you by OSIP, where Outstanding Sportsmanship Is Paramount.

And by Umpire Placement Course. Continue your career at UMPCourse.com.

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Monday, January 13, 2020

Umpire Scapegoating - The Case of AJ Hinch

When MLB announced then-Astros manager AJ Hinch's 2020-season suspension for video sign stealing, it brought full circle an umpire scapegoating mystery we discussed in 2019, proving the point that when a manager, player, or coach gets personal and throws a tantrum during a game, it tends to be disproportionate to whatever call that participant is at odds with.

When I wrote the first MLB ejection report of 2019 on March 15 that year, I—and many commenters—found it very notable that Hinch was ejected for arguing a strike one call to the first batter in the bottom of the first inning. To be that worked up over the very first strike call to go against one's team in Spring Training was quite unusual, as were Hinch's postgame comments targeting the umpires.
Related PostMLB Ejection S-1 - Angel Hernandez (1; AJ Hinch) (3/15/19).

During a subsequent podcast, Tmac remarked on how obscenely disproportionate Hinch's on-field tantrum was to the surrounding an situation around him, including the officiating crew's calm demeanor.
Related PostPodcast - Episode 11 - Angel, AJ, and Umpire Futures (3/18/19).

This motif carried through to Hinch's ejection on April 3, 2019, after a strike one call by Ron Kulpa in the top of the 2nd inning—another mid-AB, early-inning dismissal. It was in the podcast following this game that Tmac alluded to potential off-the-field problems for Hinch, for his erratic behavior in habitually attacking umpires over what could best be described as perceptually minor offenses, simply didn't fit into the logic of a baseball game.
Related PostMLB Ejections 007-08 - Ron Kulpa (1-2; Cintron, Hinch) (4/3/19).
Related PostPodcast Minisode 13M - AJ Hinch's Mea Ron Kulpa (4/4/19).

With news of MLB's discipline of Hinch for cheating, our story now comes full circle: in his ejections with Hernandez and Kulpa, Hinch employed one of our oldest talking points—umpire scapegoating—that had little to do with either umpire, and as is the case many times, Hinch's personal comments had little to do with facts.
Related PostGil's Call: The Blame Game (Umpire Scapegoating) (8/8/14).
Related PostEjected Duffy Makes it Personal in KC vs Tumpane Claim (6/18/18).

The following video reminds officials across all sports that the more irate, personal, and vitriolic a player, coach, or manager's response to an official's call is, the less likely the participant's actions have anything to do with the umpire or referee who is the target of abuse.

Quite often, as appears to have been the case with Hinch's Houston Astros, it's a guilty-minded manager who projects personally unacceptable feelings onto a third party, if only to avoid having to confront unpleasant emotions—in this case, a severely dishonest scheme that cost Hinch his job...once he got caught.

Video as follows:

Thursday, January 9, 2020

LVBP Ejections - Two Fights Features Bat Assault

You may have heard of batter Alex Romero swinging a bat at a catcher during a fight in the Venezuelan winter league, but without much context. Here at CCS, we researched the story, compiled video of HP Umpire Leo Nieves' 11 ejections throughout the game, and traced the brawls back to the classic tale of a blowout playoff game in the deciding Game 5 of the Best-of-5 series that left the losing team frustrated and upset.

The animosity began with a few early hit-by-pitch events and six-year Liga Venezolana de Béisbol Profesional veteran ump Nieves' ejection of Aguilas batter Jairo Perez after a called strike to lead off the top of the 7th inning (pinch-hitter Gregori Rivero inherited a two strike count and, thus, the swinging strikeout was credited to Perez). At the time of that ejection, los Caribes were leading, 6-1.

In the bottom of the 7th, the Caribes squad hit back-to-back home runs to cap off a seven-run inning and put the series-clinching game out of reach. Following a mound visit, ensuing batter Cesar Valera was then hit in the shoulder by a first-pitch fastball from Aguilas pitcher Romulo Sanchez, leading to a bench-clearing brawl during which Nieves ejected Caribes Manager Jackson Melian, DH Denis Phipps, and Aguilas 2B Yosmany Guerra.

In the top of the 8th, Caribes exacted its revenge when pitcher Angel Nesbitt plunked Aguilas batter and former MLB outfielder Alex Romero on a 3-0 pitch, who in turn turned to Caribes catcher Gabriel Lino, striking the fielder with his bat several times before benches again cleared. Ejected during the melee were Aguilas RF Romero, and Caribes pitcher Nesbitt, catcher Lino, 1B Willians Astudillo, and SS Cesar Valera.

Finally, when all the dust had settled, Caribes relief pitcher Luis Rengel hit Zulia's Engelb Vielma with a 1-1 pitch, drawing the 10th and 11th ejections (of Rengel and Caribes Bench Coach/Acting Manager Freddy Gonzalez, omitted from the box score). At the time of the final 10 ejections, los Caribes were leading 13-1. Caribes ultimately won the contest, 13-2.

Wrap: Aguilas del Zulia vs Caribes de Anzoategui (LVBP), 1/8/20 | Video as follows:

Monday, January 6, 2020

ABL Ejections - Ryan Harder (Nilsson & Glendinning)

Australian Baseball League HP Umpire Ryan Harder ejected Brisbane Bandits Manager Dave Nilsson (out call by 3B Umpire Ben Stone) in the top of the 4th and Heat 3B Robbie Glendinning (strike three call) in the bottom of the 9th inning of the Bandits-Heat game. In the 4th, with two out and the bases loaded, Bandits batter Logan Wade hit a ground ball to Heat shortstop Pete Kozma, who threw to third baseman Glendinning as Bandits baserunner R2 Donald Lutz arrived at third, ruled out by 3B Umpire Stone. At the time of Nilsson's ejection, the Bandits were leading, 2-1.

In the 9th, with one out and two on (R1, R2), Glendinning took a 1-2 pitch from Bandits pitcher Ryan Searle for a called third strike. At the time of Glendinning's ejection, the Bandits were leading, 10-4. The Bandits ultimately won the contest, 10-4.

Wrap: Brisbane Bandits vs. Perth Heat, 1/4/20 | Video as follows:

Friday, January 3, 2020

Joe West Class - Three Responsibilities of Umpires

MLB's longest-ever serving umpire, Joe West, spoke during a recent White Sox Talk podcast to offer advice to young umpires by outlining an ump's three responsibilities.

West's baseball discussion—with stories of the 2005 World Series, balks and ejections of Mark Buehrle and Ozzie Guillen, his friendship with Hawk Harrelson (the podcast got Harrelson's side of the story in 2017), filming "Naked Gun," and robot umpires—with NBC Sports Chicago host Chuck Garfien landed on the nature of an umpire's job, which West took as an opportunity to dole out a curriculum of umpiring advice about the three responsibilities of officiating.

Your first responsibility is to the game of baseball.
Said West, "You're gonna have to make some tough decisions."

Your second responsibility is to your profession.
"You can't make calls [thinking] they're not going to argue with me if I make this call, like the phantom play at second base where the fielder's off the bag. You have to say that he didn't touch the bag. If you call a guy out, no one says a word even though you're wrong, so why don't you call it right and take whatever little heat there is, and be right?"

Your third responsibility is to do what in your heart is morally and honestly correct.

Video snippet and full episode of West's interview as follows:

Thursday, January 2, 2020

ABL Ejection - Bob Crawford Ejects Shane Barclay

1B Umpire Bob Crawford ejected Sydney Blue Sox Manager Shane Barclay for arguing an out call at first base in the bottom of the 9th inning of the Perth Heat-Blue Sox game of the Australian Baseball League.

With one out and one on (R1), Blue Sox batter Max Brennan hit a ground ball to Heat pitcher Jorge Perez, who lunged to tag Brennan as Brennan slid headfirst into first base, ruled out by 1B Umpire Crawford. At the time of the ejection, the Heat were leading, 5-3. The Heat ultimately won the contest, 5-3.

Wrap: Perth Heat vs Sydney Blue Sox (ABL), 12/26/19 | Video as follows: